I was at a business growth workshop one time and was asked by a professional photographer at the end of it, “With all of the DIY website builders available these days, do I really need to hire a professional website developer?” I spun the question around and said to him, “Well, with all of affordable professional-grade cameras available these days, do I really need to hire a professional photographer?”
The other people still in the room reacted with a mixture of gasps, “oooohs,” and at least one “oh, burn” reactions. The photographer looked a bit taken aback with my response, and I could almost hear the throught process going through his head – Of course you need a professional photographer. Just because you have access to the tools that I would use doesn’t mean that you know best how to use them. And most people certainly don’t have the training and experience that I have on how to compose a great shot, using lighting effectively, editing and post-production – ohhhhhhhhh. That’s what you mean.
Offering the services that I do, it’s a daily struggle to convince people that there is value in hiring a professioal website developer – even if you’re using CMSs and other tools that make it easier for a layperson to create a site. The value is in the experience, the training, and the exposure I have to tools and training and tips to present a more polished finished product.
The same could be said for many professional service providers – copywriters, copyeditors, SEO specialists, graphic designers, and social media managers. Yes, you can do all of those things yourself, and it’s certainly understandable to want to do them, or at least attempt to do them, when you’re just starting out and are bootstrapping it all with a small budget. The cost of doing it all yourself, though, could be much more in the long run than simply hiring someone.
You lose time in learning how to do all of these things that could be spent networking, creating your products, or performing your services for your customers. And with all of the differing opinions that exist on the internet, the source you’re learning from could have incorrect or outdated information that could greatly hinder your progress and success.
Websites aren’t just websites any more
It used to be that a business owner could get away with a simple “online brochure” style website. Then, you could grab a free template from somewhere, slap up a 5-page site, and call it done. These kinds of websites weren’t meant to be marketing powerhouses – they were simply brochures. They existed to legitimize a business and provide contact information.
Now, though, websites have to be so much more, especially for online businesses. For a virtual business, your website is your store; it is how you connect with your customers, it’s where you advertise the new fall line and draw them into check out your new offerings. This is where you draw them in, convince them to browse, hope they sign up for your mailing list, show them other similar offerings they might like, educate them, entice them, and, hopefully, sell to them. Websites have forms and funnels and optins and analytics and affiliate links and privacy policies and disclaimers and information about your products, services, expertise and experience.
But even for brick-and-mortar businesses, the days of a simple website are past. Think about the last website you visited for a brick-and-mortar store. Websites for restaurants list hours, contact and location info, menus, specials, and maybe even online ordering capabilities. Heck, even my kids’ pediatrician’s website has downloadable forms, information for parents, staff bios, and education classes and meetups. And their dentist’s website let me request an appointment, make payments, and sign up for a text message reminder of their appointments.
So, sure, you can build a website (or hire your niece/neighbor/some college student) but to really utilize it as the powerhouse tool it can be, you need someone that understands all of the pieces and how they work together. (PS – that’s me, if you weren’t sure.)
What do you get from a professional website developer?
So, what specifically do you get from working with this professional WordPress website developer?
11+ years experience – I’ve been making websites for over 11 years (almost 21 if you include the terrible, cheesy sites I made when the ‘Net was in its infancy and I learned HTML right out of high school). Which means I’ve had time to make lots of mistakes, learn how to fix them, learn what works better, and what is appealing to target audiences.
Countless hours of training – Because this is something I’m passionate about, and it’s how I make my income, I spend a lot of time learning how to do it better, what current best practices are, and how to optimize everything. This training comes as formal courses, informal discussions, blog posts, reading books, watching video courses, and simple trial and error. Sure, you could do all of this, too. But, if this isn’t what you’re passionate about, do you really want to?
Active in WordPress community – I’m a co-organizer for our local WordPress meetup group, and lead organizer for WordCamp Pittsburgh 2017, and I attend as many other WordCamps as I can. Staying active in the WordPress community helps me to stay up-to-date on recent and pending changes, learn new best practices to better optimize sites and resources for better performance, and meet other WordPress pros so that we can learn from each other. (If you’re local to Pittsburgh and interested in WordPress, I highly recommend checking out the meetup group and our upcoming WordCamp.)
Beware of imposters!
Just because someone has the tools doesn’t mean they know how to use them properly.
I once talked to a graphic designer that declared that since she had the full Adobe Creative Suite, including Dreamweaver, she was going to start offering website development services. She really didn’t know the first thing about what makes a good webpage or site, didn’t know the difference between DNS records and MX servers, didn’t know any HTML code (which is the basis for all websites – even WordPress websites), but she had software that could build the site for her. Going with this logic, I should start offering accounting services. After all, I have QuickBooks, and it can do all the balancing and stuff for me, so I should be fine. Except I don’t really understand accounting beyond entering transactions, invoices and payments – nor do I want to.
You could go to just about any store that sells software and buy some home design software, sometimes for as little as $5. But, would you trust someone to design your new home with that?
Aside from being able to produce a final product, a professional website developer should be able to tell you why the did what they did – why is the site responsive, why are they recommending the hosting company they use, why are certain elements or practices encouraged or discouraged? Not how, certainly. Unless you’re paying them to teach you how to do it, they don’t need to explain how they created the finished product, but they should at least be able to explain why.